Helena Baker grew up in Manchester, England, the only child of third- and fourth-generation British-born parents, where she attended a secular Jewish day school called King David. Her parents had their own law firm. The Bakers had married late and had few relatives.
Baker, who described herself as a “millennial,” as she was born in 1992 and grew up with the Internet in the current Information Age, nonetheless was an avid reader and enjoyed spending time with friends. Following an uneventful childhood and the safe cocoon of day school, she left home for university. At 18 she began studies in French and history at Durham University, located in a historic city in North East England, its dramatic skyline dominated by a cathedral and castle dating back to the early years of the Norman conquest of Britain.
But, despite the World Heritage setting, and chairing the Jewish society there, she was not enthused about her early years of higher education. She was experiencing religious stirrings at the time and “just found it hard to be so far from a Jewish environment.”
Baker then spent her third year in Paris to improve her language skills. There she lodged with a Sephardi family and worked as an intern at a large real estate company. Though she gained valuable work experience during this gap year, she naturally “found it hard to adjust to such a different culture over a limited period of time.”
She opted not to return to Durham for her final year of studies, instead moving on to Surrey’s Royal Holloway, University of London, 30 km. from the capital. This was definitely a change for the better. “I very much enjoyed my time at Holloway – I was already living in Golders Green, London, by then.”
After she graduated and remained in London, congenial times followed. She worked for the Union of Jewish students, “helping organize events, kosher food, and making sure the students had everything they needed.”
Then 21, she started writing for clients, making her first forays into journalism and publishing online. Baker gradually blossomed in her writing. She worked as a copywriter for an e-commerce enterprise that sold pet foods online, but after the company failed, she went freelance full-time and continued to develop a clientele for about five years. “I very much enjoyed my freelance life and its independence,” she notes.
At that point, she decided to move to Israel. Though her professional life was satisfactory, “It was more the monotony of my personal life that impelled me to make a change,” she explains. However, “The move was actually quite a shock,” she comments dryly. “Though I had been here on holidays, it wasn’t really the same thing.”
Baker spent her first six months here, January through June 2019, at Ulpan Etzion in Jerusalem, “which was really good for making friends.” But when she moved to Tel Aviv that summer, “Finding apartments was quite a challenge.”
Fortunately Baker was able to continue her commercial writing and blogging and take along some UK clients with her, but adds proudly that “a lot of my clients are Israeli now.”
After ulpan, Baker invested time in networking to help develop her business. Although she works very hard on her Hebrew, the events she attended at BNI (Business Network International) were “brilliant, but mainly in Hebrew – and too Israeli,” for her, and she did not find a suitable English-speaking group. Having identified a need for professionals like herself, she soon decided to take matters into her own hands.
“I had to form my own networking group, ESN [English Speakers’ Network], and it was a struggle to find a place for it,” she says. She rounded up participants through social media, while searching for a suitable place for bimonthly meetings. The venue, Tel Aviv’s Urban Place, provided an appropriate hub-type workspace for her office, and meeting rooms for the group to assemble. Meetings follow a similar agenda to that of other networking groups.
Baker feels quite comfortable and confident in her role as CEO, adding that: “I enjoy making connections between other people. We start with introductions. After that we try to have a guest speaker, or someone within the group will present. We have just launched a second group in Ramat Beit Shemesh.”
Baker goes to her office at the hub every day in disciplined fashion. She also enjoys her leisure time, commenting, “I have a lot of friends, I go to the gym. Life is very social and busy.” Comparing her new environment favorably with London, she says: “In London I was too comfortable. Here there are a lot of challenges. Life here feels more authentic and genuine – a lot more alive. In London sometimes I felt like I was just going through the motions. And luckily, my parents aren’t far away and come over to visit.”
She is gearing up for networking expansion. “I’d like ESN to have branches all over Israel, with a mega event every year. In terms of further plans I also hope to continue working on my copywriting business and improving my Hebrew. In addition, I’d like to publish my written, although unpublished book, and travel to Asia.”
Note: This article was written before the pandemic.